Daniel Barenboim – Beethoven Piano Sonata Cycle (4)

Piano Sonata in C minor, Op.10/1
Piano Sonata in B flat, Op.22
Piano Sonata in G minor, Op.49/1
Piano Sonata in G, Op.49/2
Piano Sonata in F minor, Op.57 (Appassionata)

Daniel Barenboim (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 6 February, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Daniel Barenboim. Photograph: Monika Rittershaus/TeldecBy the end of the interval for the fourth instalment of Daniel Barenboim’s Beethoven cycle, I began to wonder if I had strayed into the wrong event. Each time-check to the start of the second half brought a reminder of the concert’s sponsor! Was it not enough to have a logo projected onto the auditorium’s back wall? At least that was suppressed while the music was playing. Although classical music may not yet have succumbed to sponsors’ demands in the way that sport has, you worry the day is fast approaching when the piano itself will be decorated in some way.

Happily we were still in the right place. Daniel Barenboim reappeared and his playing of the two sonatas of Opus 49 illustrated the poetry and keen sense of humour running through this series. Add in charm, cheek and lilt.

The ‘Appassionata’ was dark and quite brittle and refused to let up. Barenboim was notably agitated throughout, the stabbing F minor chords that send the finale over the edge given out with considerable aggression (if without a repeat of its development section), while the first movement, opening with a relaxed tempo, remained concentrated, sometimes chilling. The central hymn-like Theme and Variations does not always provide respite, and so it was here. Barenboim opted for daring dynamic extremes and held a sense of expectation and pent-up energy, released in the finale but seemingly deliberately overplayed.

The concert’s first half had more repose, which is not to say that Barenboim treated either sonata with frivolity. The B flat is a beautifully written homage to Mozart while retaining impetus. From Barenboim the Adagio con molto espressione was particularly refined, with admirable soft dynamics and gentle phrasing. The ‘Menuetto’ was graceful and unhurried, expressive, too, a perfect complement to the Allegretto finale. In the first movement Barenboim secured a light, legato performance.

The opening C minor Sonata was more dramatic, Barenboim employing sensitive rubato in the held notes of the first movement and in the ‘wrong’ cadences of the finale before the coda tripped away into the distance. In the Adagio molto Barenboim’s insights were threatened by coughs and sneezes, but by the time he secured a perfectly controlled morendo, most people were holding their breath.

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